When the Wii was first heralded as the “next big thing” in video games, I was watching from the sidelines (or possibly the frontlines) in Japan. I admit that like everyone else, I got caught up in the hype and wanted…nay…needed a Wii. That was a couple of years ago. Since then, I have decided a didn’t need a Wii and then ended up getting one for practically free off of Craigslist about five months ago. I haven’t played the damned thing in almost three months, confirming my suspicions that the Wii was not a console for me. However, this is not a blurb of why I dislike the Wii; it is an article explaining why I think the Wii was a bad idea for Nintendo.
At first glance, the Wii was a nifty concept. Instead of a controller, you get a wand that you wave like a madman at your television and stuff happens. People seemed to enjoy the idea of having to play games standing up (though I have never understood why) and actually going through the motions of the activities portrayed on the screen. Then the tech specs for the machine were released and pundits (including me) figured out that the Wii was severely lacking in pretty much every department other than ingenuity. Nintendo explained all of this away by saying that the console was not meant for the hardcore gamer, rather the hardcore gamer’s grandma and the hardcore gamer’s girlfriend. Sometimes, those two niches were filled by the same person, depending on the hardcore gamer.
The design and marketing of the Wii made financial sense for Nintendo too. At a time when the company’s only profitable platform was the DS, a console that made the company money as soon as a unit was sold was a boon. The bottom line was that Nintendo could not afford another Gamecube sales debacle and needed cash fast. While they people at Nintendo may be creative geniuses, they could not accurately project the future of the system or the industry and due to this lack of foresight, Nintendo is once again in a bind. This time, I do not see Nintendo recovering.
Today, the Wii is doggy paddling in the console market. Sony has announced that they too will soon have a Wiimote and games that cater to it. Microsoft has announced “Project Natal” which will take Nintendo’s original idea one step further with motion sensing cameras and whatnot. Neither Sony or Microsoft’s ideas are original, Sony is copying Nintendo and Microsoft is essentially marketing a Sony Eyetoy on crack. But as soon as they are released, both gimmicks with threaten Nintendo. Why buy a Wii when you can buy a PS3 that behaves like a Wii and plays Blurays and standard PS3 fare? Yes, the PS3 is a more expensive system but I think enough value will be there to draw prospective buyers away from Nintendo. Microsoft’s one big draw is and always has been Xbox Live and while Sony and Nintendo have struggled in the online component of their systems, Sony is quickly making up ground. Nintendo is not.
More troubling news has come out of Nintendo in the last couple of days with their announcement of a DS with a bigger screen called, DS LL. Is this a brand new DS filled with awesome, new, and innovative hardware? No, it’s a DS with a bigger screen. That’s it. A bigger DS coupled with the rumor that the Wii will soon get an upgrade that will enable it to play DVDs and display video at higher resolutions than 420p are nothing more than marketing gimmicks stolen directly from Sony’s crappy playbook. Where is the innovation, Nintendo, c’mon?!
Unfortunately, this lack of hardware innovation is trickling into the games that find themselves on the Wii. If IGN’s list of upcoming Wii games and their release dates is any indication, only a handful of new and original titles are to be expected between now and the end of 2011. This may partially explain why Nintendo’s total global profits fell 54% compared to this time last year. Nintendo keeps allowing crappy franchises and movie licenses to thrive on their systems and have basically made themselves the town whore to any kids show or movie that offers them money to make a game (in name only) for one of their systems. For a while, Nintendo talked about bringing back their Nintendo Seal of Quality that used to grace the games of old. Sure, it was a horrible pain for game developers, but lets face it, the NES and SNES had some damned fine games and the Wii and DS could use that kind of fascist quality control. Will the Nintendo Seal make a comeback? I doubt it, Nintendo needs money and turning away prospective publishers doesn’t make money. I think I have spewed enough facts to illustrate where I think Nintendo is going.
I am nowhere near a professional analyst but if I were in the prediction making business I would say that within two or three years the Nintendo we know will be dead. That is not to say that they will go the way of the original Atari and totally disappear from the face of the Earth, but I do think the Wii and the DS franchises will be Nintendo’s last foray into the console market. My guess is they will pull a Sega and just sell all of their original franchises to Sony. Why Sony and not Microsoft? Easy. First, Sony is a Japanese company and most Japanese companies cooperate with each other to some extent, even if they are in direct competition with each other. Remember, the original Playstation was supposed to be a Nintendo and Sony joint effort. Second, Sony’s PS3 has a higher market saturation in Japan than Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and so it would make sense to keep Nintendo’s brands on a system that Japanese people actually play. If Nintendo were to give say, the Mario franchise to Microsoft it would basically be to send Sony a parting, “screw you”.
Another likely possibility would be that Nintendo decides that the home console market is too hard to compete in and focuses solely on their mobile market share. While the DS has seen a flood of crappy games, it also sports a very diverse selection of titles. You have a ton of RPGs, casual games, side-scrollers, imports, etc. Focusing solely on the DS would allow Nintendo the free money to enforce some sort of quality control by denying developers the right to keep making games like Dora Visits Thailand and Snoopy Eats A Bagel. It would also allow Nintendo to develop a new handheld device with more innovation than a bigger screen. Most importantly, by going this route Nintendo could maintain all of its original franchises without pimping them out to Sony. I for one would definitely go for a sequel to the New Super Mario Brothers.
The bottom line is Nintendo has painted itself into a corner. Sure it made a Wii, but it wasn’t able to lock its competitors out of the market and it doesn’t have enough horsepower to fight Sony or Microsoft’s offerings once they bring comparable products to market. The counter to this would be to say that Nintendo has brought superior games to its platform and I think we can all agree that aside from a dozen or so games, this has not happened. At all.
Part of me is saddened by what I see coming because unlike any other game company, Nintendo has grown up with me. I was five or six when the NES was released and have had every system since. The other part of me sees this as a good thing. I have always been fond of Nintendo’s handhelds and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I would also kill to see a traditional Super Mario Bros. game on the PS3 after having experienced the sheer joy that is Little Big Planet. One way or the other, Nintendo has passed the point of no return in terms of being able to correct itself as the company we are all familiar with. Now we just have to sit back and see where Nintendo takes itself in the next couple of years.
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